Sunday, January 31, 2016

Undercover journalism and prosecutorial discrection

Given the recent initiation of criminal prosecution against the people who made the defamatory video about Planned Parenthood, I thought I'd quote what journalism says about undercover journalism:


Undercover reporting can be a powerful tool, but it’s one to be used cautiously: against only the most important targets, and even then only when accompanied by solid traditional reporting.
And Society for Professional Journalists:
Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
So they're saying do it rarely, only when necessary, and do it well.

The prosecution against the undercover activists isn't for doing it badly, it's for doing it at all. It would apply equally to many groundbreaking investigations by true undercover journalists. And the line between journalist and activist is a slippery one that maybe doesn't matter (e.g., the people exposing animal cruelty at factory farms).

As a practical matter I don't see a good way to modify the law to say "don't use fake identification unless you're working undercover." That's where prosecutorial discretion comes into play. The grand jury has no role in that discretion and district attorney seemed to ignore her responsibility.

This indictment will be used to keep corporate crimes hidden. Go after these people for doing a bad job via defamation suits instead, but don't ban undercover operations.


David B. Benson said...

I don't agree. The issue is the fake ids.

Undercover does not require that.

Brian said...

You need i.d. if you're going to get a job where you're infiltrating.

They're also being prosecuted for attempting to buy body parts. Real undercover activists would do the same thing, exposing illegal selling activity by posing as buyers.

KAP said...

The fake ID business is small beans. Any real journalist who needs to use fake ID for a legitimate story wouldn't spike the story because of that.

The bigger issue is that the fake journos in this case tried to entrap PP by offering to buy body parts, which is a crime. And that's just way over the line, period. So the indictments are good, and shouldn't deter legit journos doing legit jobs.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

I'm pretty sure that they were indicted because they were just making shit up. They WERE NOT DOING ANYTHING REMOTELY RESEMBLING JOURNALISM.

Brian said...

That fake i.d. small beans business is one of the two indictment counts. Not sure I understand your statement - the story gets spiked (not researched) if they can't use fake i.d.

On the "entrapment", it's similar to people trying to catch pedophiles by posing as a young teens. I'll repeat their techniques didn't work and they lied about the results, but they're not being criminally prosecuted for what they said but what they did, and that's a bad precedent.

Come on Rattus, what they did exactly resembles undercover journalism, except for what they wrote about it in the end.

Brandon R. Gates said...

Let's also keep in mind that CMP were not just trying to uncover illegal activity, they're attempting to make it more difficult for women to legally (and in my mind, ethically) terminate an unwanted pregnancy -- or in CMP's view, murder their own innocent child.

I think a civil defamation case against Daleiden brought by PP is a better response than a criminal case brought by the state for reasons already suggested.